A new 13 week season of Dungeons and Dragons public play encounters starts on Wednesday, February 9th, and let me tell you– I am VERY excited. I just read through the adventure this weekend and it is a HUGE improvement. Despite the fact that we are limited to the same Essentials builds that were available in the previous season of encounters, I expect players and Dungeon Masters alike will have gobs of fun. No spoilers here!
Better With Each Iteration
In my humble opinion, Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents was an improvement over Dark Sun. The Dark Sun environment was far too deadly for most new players, the pregenerated characters were weak, and a lot of people were turned off dying week after week. Keep on the Borderlands was an improvement, but it seemed to have the opposite problem. With the new Essentials build options, encounters were too easy for veteran players. Unfortunately, I didn’t play season one, Undermountain, so I have no frame of reference there. Please comment if you survived Halaster’s Madness.
To some degree, I think Wizards of the Coast is making progress towards making everyone happy. The new “ultra difficult” encounters coming this fall should attract veterans looking for a challenge, and the March of the Phantom Brigade is taking encounters in a great direction for new and old players alike.
March of the Phantom Brigade Improvements
#1 NPC Story Blocks
On one or two occasions in Keep on the Borderlands, important enemies and non-player characters (NPCs) were provided back story, character motivations, and quirks. March of the Phantom Brigade provides a lot more of this. This improvement will make it easier for Dungeon Masters to act out a variety of characters, and will provide a higher quality game environment for players.
#2 Rewards for Roleplaying
Public play encounters can sometimes feel like a battle arena. Many players don’t put a lot of thought into their character back stories because the seasons are so short… or they play pregens that don’t have much character detail. Throughout this new season of encounters, there are bonuses all over the place for good roleplaying. I don’t think I would consider them “hidden” bonuses, but they are certainly not freebies.
#3 Encounters that Encourage Roleplaying
In many places, the story quite literally forces the players to build depth into their characters. The characters are part of a community over the course of many months, and between breaks in the storyline, the players have to decide how their characters spent their time… and DM’s can choose whether or not these details have an impact on future encounters.
#4 A Solid Storyline
Dark Sun was a mess. The entire story took place over only a few day’s time as the characters stumbled into battle after battle trying to flee a powerful defiler. The story was nonsensical, there was almost no roleplaying, and the encounters were all about combat. Keep on the Borderlands was an improvement, but there were still several questionable story elements. March of the Phantom Brigade is solid. It’s not predictable, but the story flows very well, and actually makes sense throughout. There are no random delves inserted into this one just for the sake of having a delve.
#5 Renown System Improvements
First off, I tip my hat to anyone who accomplished the 100 point renown iron-man challenge from keep on the Borderlands. If a players attended every session of encounters, it wasn’t guaranteed that they would reach the 100 point reward. If you missed two sessions, it was almost impossible to reach the 100 point reward.
March of the Phantom Brigade has much more reasonable goals. Several of the bonus renown accomplishments can be acquired every chapter, not just once per season. These include: reviving allies, hitting for 15+ damage, killing 3 minions with one attack, and taking 50+ damage in a single session. Also, if you bring a new player, you can earn two additional renown PER PLAYER.
This time there are renown rewards (Fortune Cards) at 20, 40, and 60 renown points. If you create an essentials character with the character builder, complete the encounter, score three bonus accomplishments, and bring a friend, you’ve already earned the first renown award!
Are you running games for this season of encounters? What are your thoughts on the module? As a player, are you excited, or are you saddened by the lack of new build options caused by the DnD product delays?